The best poems by Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) wrote a great deal of poetry before his death, in his mid-thirties, while fighting in Greece. But what are Byron’s best poems? Here we’ve selected some of his best-known and best-loved poems, spanning narrative verse, love poetry, simple lyrics, and longer comic works.
Don Juan. Despite the Spanish name of Byron’s hero (or antihero?), many readers and critics Anglicise the title of this, perhaps Byron’s most representative work and his greatest achievement, as ‘Don Joo-an’. A vast comic poem that is almost novelistic in its length and range, it follows the protagonist, a lothario, as he has affairs and adventures – Don Juan is partly a portrait of Byron himself (with his eventful private life), but is also a modern take on the figure who appears elsewhere in literature and culture, perhaps most famously in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. Byron wrote of the poem in 1819, ‘it may be profligate – but is it not life, and is it not the thing? Could any man have written it – who has not lived in the world?’ Read the rest of this entry
This little poem by John Clare (1793-1864) is not his most famous, but it’s worth sharing here because it so perfectly puts into words the power of untold love. ‘I loved thee, though I told thee not’: undoubtedly we could all tell a similar story, especially during those powerful years when we’re in the grip of first love.
I loved thee, though I told thee not,
Right earlily and long,
Thou wert my joy in every spot,
My theme in every song.
And when I saw a stranger face
Where beauty held the claim,
I gave it like a secret grace
The being of thy name.
And all the charms of face or voice
Which I in others see Read the rest of this entry
‘Youth and Age’, as the title suggests, explores the passing of time and the onset of old age. What does it mean to grow old? In this great Romantic poem about ageing, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) grapples with this very question.
Youth and Age
Verse, a breeze mid blossoms straying,
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee—
Both were mine! Life went a-maying
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,
When I was young!
When I was young?—Ah, woful When!
Ah! for the change ’twixt Now and Then!
This breathing house not built with hands,
This body that does me grievous wrong,
O’er aery cliffs and glittering sands,
How lightly then it flashed along:—
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,
On winding lakes and rivers wide, Read the rest of this entry